Fantasy Football: Go all-in on the Arizona Cardinals in 2014

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arizona cardinals

Play your Cards right this year and you could be taking home your league’s first-place trophy (via Bloguin.com)

Going all-in on the Arizona Cardinals in your fantasy football draft can be a sound strategy in 2014.  Seriously.

By now, you have an idea of what players you’re going to target on draft day.  It makes sense to go after those who are going to be in a high-scoring offense, as well as those whose real life team defense is, well, a less-than-stellar unit.

If you want to go all-in with the Broncos’ trio of wide receivers, banking that Peyton Manning repeats last year, I can’t blame you.  Are you a believer in Brandin Cooks in the high-powered offense of the New Orleans Saints?  You should be.  In Atlanta and Dallas, their defenses mildly resemble a high school squad, so you can expect points galore from Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and well, everyone except Steven Jackson.

It’s a great strategy to target any of the players from these explosive offenses.  I mean, the point of fantasy football — aside from having fun, of course — is to score the most points on any given week, right?  While I co-sign all of the above offenses, there is one that gets overlooked that will finish in the top five this year in the league in scoring — and that’s the Arizona Cardinals.

Wow, when’s the last time anyone was that excited about the Cardinals?  It was probably when Santonio Holmes‘ toes and James Harrison‘s sprint to the end zone shattered Arizona’s dreams more than Goldust would.

But this is the year to buy in, folks.  The Cardinals have four fantasy difference makers this year, and they even have three potential sleepers (Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer, John Brown) for the end of drafts.

First, let’s take a look at Carson Palmer.  That’s a sexy name, isn’t it?  Now, the only thing that could hold Palmer back is the fact that, well, he’s Carson Palmer.  But in the past, we’ve seen the magic that Bruce Arians has had with quarterbacks.

The start of Palmer’s tenure with the Cardinals didn’t start off too well last year.  Through eight games, Palmer threw for 1,913 yards, 10 TDs and 14 INTs, with a 74.78 quarterback rating and a 62 percent completion rate.  The Cards were 4-4 as they entered their Week 9 bye, but it looked like they used the bye week to their advantage.

Over the final seven games of the season, Palmer looked like a new quarterback, as he threw for 2,120 yards, 12 TDs and seven INTs, garnering a QB rating of 95.67 and completing 66.8 percent of his passes.  Palmer’s 2,120 yards in his final seven games was second only to Peyton Manning for most passing yards over the same period of time, according to ESPN’s Matthew Berry.  His 302.86 yards per game over his final seven games was third only to Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

Yeah, he was that good.

The Arizona Cardinals are in a pass-first offense, and despite the expected emergence of Andre Ellington, whom we will get to in a second, it’s Palmer’s show.  I’m not saying that you should draft Palmer in an eight- or 10-team league, or if your league penalizes for interceptions, but if you’re in a 12-team league or deeper, and you want to take a backup quarterback for someone like Romo or Jay Cutler, or if you’re looking to pair a quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson, you could do much worse than Palmer.

In a 2-QB league, it’s hard to say that Palmer is a must-own quarterback, because everyone essentially is in that format.  I would, however, feel more than comfortable going with a QB in the first two rounds, and then wait on Palmer as my No. 2 QB later in the draft.

Final projections for Carson Palmer: 4,500 yards, 35 touchdowns, 21 interceptions

Someone has to catch the passes from Palmer, right?  Enter Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.  Both are names that fantasy players — and real life fans — know by now, but both should see solid overall numbers this year.

In a recent 14-team draft on ESPN.com, someone took Fitzgerald No. 18 overall, which is quite a reach.  Luckily, I landed Julio Jones at No. 19.  His current ADP on FantasyPros.com is 35, which makes him the No. 12 WR off the board in round three.

In year’s past, I’d be all over that ADP for Fitzgerald, but with Floyd’s ADP at 62 (beginning of round six), I’m more inclined to wait this year for Floyd.

Fitzgerald, believe it or not, was touchdown dependent for the first time in his career last year, as his 10 touchdowns saved his fantasy season, while he failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight season.

Fitzgerald, entering his 11th season in the league, is still OK in PPR formats, as he hauled in 82 receptions for 954 yards.  He’s still a dynamic receiver, but the fact that he was only able to convert on six of his 22 red zone targets is a bit alarming.

However, in this offense, and even with the emergence Floyd, Fitzgerald will still be a top 25 wide receiver for fantasy owners.

Final projections for Larry Fitzgerald: 1,116 yards, 81 receptions, eight touchdowns

Last year, Floyd led the Cardinals wide receivers with 1,041 yards on 65 receptions — 17 fewer than Fitzgerald. With Fitzgerald receiving the top coverage each week last year, Floyd broke out. Now, entering his third year, Floyd is poised to make the third-year leap, which we see receivers make so often.

Last year, Floyd was the big-play guy for the Cardinals, as he hauled in 17 receptions for over 20 yards.  The negative on Floyd is that he hauled in just five scores on 112 targets, but if Floyd is going to take the leap to a borderline elite receiver, one has to think the targets, receptions and scores go way up.  I have Floyd as a top 20 receiver by the end of the year, and when it’s said and done, he’ll finish with more fantasy points than Fitzgerald in both standard and PPR leagues.

Final projections for Michael Floyd: 1,241 yards, 85 receptions, 12 touchdowns

Lastly, let me be the latest to jump on the Ellington bandwagon.  Over the course of the off-season, Ellington’s stock has been steadily increasing.  When sites first opened their mock draft lobbies in early May, Ellington was going as a fourth-rounder.  Now, he has as ADP of 31, and as the preseason goes on, it’s only going to get higher.

As high as I am on Ellington, a second round pick is a little too high for my liking in a standard league, but in PPR, sign me up, please.  Arians said that he wants Ellington to get 25-30 touches per game, and while I understand a lot of that is coach speak, it’s not too far out of the realm of possibility.

Ellington is a play maker, and even if he gets 17 carries per week, you can pencil him in for five or six receptions per game.  As great as Floyd and Fitzgerald are, the Cardinals want to get the ball into Ellington’s hands as much as possible.

Ellington had eight runs last year of 20 yards or more, and he carried the ball just 118 times on the season.  Quick math tells us that nearly 15 percent of Ellington’s carries went for over 20 yards.  Ellington led the NFL in big-play percentage.  Yeah, he’s that dynamic.

Last year, Rashard Mendenhall was a thorn in Ellington’s side, vulturing nearly all the goal line work, and this year, it looks like Taylor or Dwyer will take that role.  Want to know the best thing?  It won’t matter.

The volume of touches that Ellington will get and the number of receptions that he’ll get will more than make up for it.

Final projections for Andre Ellington: 218 carries, 1,085 yards, six rushing touchdowns, 65 receptions, 581 yards, three receiving touchdowns

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